Three Harrisburg citizens, including a former mayoral candidate, have requested a federal court to impose an emergency temporary injunction to halt the state-appointed receiver in Pennsylvania’s capital city from implementing a financial recovery plan.
Nevin Mindlin, who lost the 2009 election to current Mayor Linda Thompson, Rev. Earl Harris of St. Paul Baptist Church, and city firefighters’ union president Eric Jenkins argued that the state law allowing Gov. Tom Corbett to declare a state of fiscal emergency in Harrisburg unfairly singles out the 49,000-population city.
Provision of the state constitution “expressly prohibit the General Assembly from passing special laws that target one municipality for special treatment and do not apply to all municipalities similarly classified by the General Assembly,” said the petition, filed Thursday by Kennett Square attorney Paul Rossi in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania in Harrisburg.
“Harrisburg is being taken advantage of constitutionally, which is really the point of what this is all about,” Mindlin said. “The only way to stop it is through the constitutional question.”
The law paved the way for Corbett to appoint David Unkovic as receiver for the city, which is mired in $310 million of incinerator-related bond debt. The city’s overall debt, including structural deficits, has been estimated at up to $450 million.
Harrisburg enrolled in the state’s Act 47 program for distressed communities, but three times last year the City Council rejected an Act 47 workout plan. The council filed a Chapter 9 bankruptcy petition on behalf of the city last October, but a federal judge nullified it a month later, citing state law restrictions and the mayor’s objections. The council’s attorney, Mark Schwartz, has appealed the ruling.
The Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania will hold a public hearing on Unkovic’s proposed recovery plan on Thursday. Unkovic has proposed an evaluation and possible sale or lease of the incinerator, parking garages, and operation of water and wastewater assets; concessions from three city unions; increasing the residential earned income tax by 1%; and increasing other municipal service fees.
Unkovic also proposed restoring the chief operating officer position, which has been vacant for two years, at an annual salary of $110,000. The city is interviewing candidates.
He had no comment on Thursday’s filing, saying he would let the legal process play out.